Mining in Chile – statistics & facts

Mining has been an important part of the Chilean identity since indigenous times, and through the course of its history, the Andean country has consolidated itself as a major global player in the sector. The mining sector accounted for nine percent of Chile’s GDP in 2019 and generated over 200,000 direct jobs. Chilean mining exports added up to more than 36 billion U.S. dollars that year, representing more than half of the national export value. Internationally, Chile’s production ranks amongst the highest in the world for a series of metals and minerals - including molybdenum, lithium, silver, and gold – but copper is undoubtedly the most important metal in the Chilean economy.

In addition to having the largest reserves in the world, Chile has remained unopposed for years as the largest copper producer worldwide, representing 28 percent of the global production in 2019, and with an output surpassing that of the following top three combined. Production is concentrated in the North of the country, particularly in the Antofagasta region - where Escondida, the world’s largest copper mine based on production capacity, is located.

Given the importance of copper in the Chilean economy, it is no surprise that the country’s largest copper producer – Corporación Nacional del Cobre de Chile, commonly known as Codelco – is also Chile’s leading mining company, with an annual revenue of more than 12 billion U.S. dollars. The Chilean state-owned company, headquartered in Santiago, was officially established in 1976 under Augusto Pinochet’s dictatorship. Nowadays, it still accounts for almost one third of Chile’s annual copper output. Other leaders in the Chilean mining sector include Minera Escondida, controlled by Australian company BHP Billiton, and Antofagasta PLC, both also operating in copper segment.

In addition to copper, Chile has also gained increased attention in recent years as the home to the largest proved worldwide reserves of lithium, an alkali metal that experienced a boom in popularity due to its utilization in ion-lithium batteries. Although production still lags far behind global leader Australia, the country’s annual output has increased by nearly 40 percent in the past decade. The Chilean lithium potential is expected to continue developing, as international mining corporations start investing in the country, after years of exclusive exploration rights granted by the government to Chilean mining company SQM and U.S.-based Albemarle.

Moreover, in the precious metals segment, Chile also ranks amongst the top producers worldwide. Chilean silver production ranked fifth in the world in 2019, with an output of over one thousand metric tons. The national gold production has also remained relatively stable in recent years, with an average annual output of 40 tons. Chile’s gold exports generated more than 1 billion U.S. dollars in 2019, ranking only behind copper in share of mining exports .

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Mining in Chile

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